Today, my school district’s Science Curriculum Team met again. The primarily goal of the high school teachers on the team was to finalize our school district’s science pathway for high school. As many of you can imagine, this topic has generated significant debate and consternation. We were threatened with not being allowed to leave for lunch until a decision was made, which may have provided extra motivation. After reviewing Lexile scores and math readiness based on Common Core, we somewhat anticlimactically confirmed the decision to have the following pathway: 9th grade – Chemistry with integrated Earth Science; 10th grade – Biology with integrated Earth Science; 11th grade – Physics with integrated Earth Science. Seniors would have the option to take a variety of AP science courses and other electives.
We spent the rest of the day focused on how best to integrate the NGSS Earth Science performance expectations into each of the three courses. We still have some work to do in this area.
I hope that our next effort is focused on creating an engaging narrative that ties all three science courses together so students see it as a single progression and not three disjoint classes they have to take.
Now that the AP Computer Science exam is over and we’ve finished our capstones (more on those later), we finish the year building LEGO MINDSTORM NXT robots and programming them in Java using leJOS. This is a perfect project for the end of the year because it is extremely engaging, leverages everything we’ve studied this year, and adds a new element of the interaction between software and the real world. Last year, the students built sumo bots and competed against each other. Based on reflection and what I learned at last summer’s Tapestry Workshop, this year’s challenge is less directly competitive. Students have to design, build, and program a robot to push six peanut butter jars out of a circle without having the robot leave the circle. Underclasses, who are in school after the seniors graduate, have the additional challenge of having their robot placed in a “house” (a box with an open side) in the center of the circle from which they must first escape.
Now that the exam is over, my AP Physics B class will spend the rest of the year exploring more cosmology and particle physics. We already did a little cosmology when the BICEP-2 results were announced and we did an abbreviated particle physics unit before reviewing for the AP exam. My “target” for today’s class was: “determine the age of the observable universe”.
After much searching, I found an excellent Hubble’s Law lab from the University of Washington. I reviewed several labs and decided this was the best for several reasons: students examine actual data of galaxies, students use spectra to calculate the redshift, and students use the apparent angular size to calculate the distance. The materials published by the University of Washington are excellent and include a complete spreadsheet to assist in the analysis. We need another day to finish examining galaxies, plotting data, and calculating the age of the observable universe.
Honors Physics students had their circuits lab practicum today. There were two parts. For the first, they had to construct a three-resistor circuit diagram on a breadboard from a circuit diagram and a collection of resistors, measure the current through the power supply and each resistor, measure the voltage across the power supply and each resistor, and calculate the resistance of the unknown resistor. For the second part, they could work with the assistance of a partner and determine the circuit diagram corresponding to the collection of lights at the station. The electrical connections between the sockets were obscured by a cloth, and students were only permitted to remove lightbulbs in order to determine the circuit diagram. This second part is one of my favorite lab practicums!
Today, I had the privilege to observe 4th and 5th graders in the midst of a five-week STEM unit. They are using LEGO MINDSTORMS and the Carnegie Mellon curriculum. The students were incredibly engaged, everyone student I asked said this was their favorite unit of the year. This program is currently offered to all 4th and 5th graders at two of our elementary schools with plans to grow it over the coming years; hopefully, to all schools. I was there to observe, offer some suggestions, and discuss how we can connect this amazing program in elementary to middle school and high school classes and activities. I suggested Seymour Paperts book Mindstorms as a resource for everyone involved. I was thrilled when one of the leaders of this program had already read it! We plan to return in a few weeks with Huskie Robotics and have the seniors see the creations of the 4th and 5th graders and then demonstrate our FIRST Robotics Competition Robot, Annie, to all 3rd through 5th graders. We hope that this helps students project themselves into these future STEM opportunities.
This pair was working on an energy transfer experiment. They were using the crank to generate energy and store it. They then used the stored energy to power their robot. They captured their predictions, data, graphs, and reflection in their lab notebook on the iPad which, in itself, was impressive.
The unit is focused on various challenges that each pair works to complete. The challenges are engaging but not competitive. This should make the unit more interesting to girls. We discussed how the unit could be improved by creating a narrative that connects the various activities and challenges to authentic human impact examples of robotics and technology. You can see a how a few of the girls personalized their robots.
I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of 2048 since it distracts students from what I feel would be better use of their times. Like reviewing for the AP Physics exam. That said, I was impressed when one of my students showed me 2048 on his TI calculator. He programmed it yesterday after thinking of the idea when he was suppose to be reviewing for the AP physics exam.
Since students finished the AP Computer Science exam, they have started brainstorming the developing their capstones. Due to school closing due to weather, I postponed capstones until after the AP exam this year. I was surprised at how in demand the whiteboards were. One student worked through quite the design class diagram.
Each year, our school district holds a dinner to recognize the top academicians of the graduating class. In addition to their parents, they are able to invite their “most influential educator.” I was honored this year to attend as the guest of some of my students.
Tonight, Huskie Robotics held our end-of-season celebration at Navistar. Navistar CEO, Troy Clarke, shared an inspiring message. We thanked our sponsors, mentors, teachers, and parents. We recognized our graduating seniors, all of whom are pursuing STEM-related majors. We also premiered our 2014 Season Highlights Video embedded here.
Huskie Robotics, Team 3061, 2014 Season from Naperville North High School on Vimeo.
Art students had an assignment to incorporate materials from another class into an art piece. One of my AP Physics B students incorporated a geometric optics free response question into his piece. He gave me the artwork to display in the classroom. Awesome!